Laurence Jones, risk assessment director at the TT Club, identifies how most accidents happen when ships come calling at ports.
Ship berthing incidents are all too common at ports globally. The berthing operation is highly dependent on human interaction and many incidents have their root cause in this fact. Damage to the ship itself, the berth and quay cranes often result, as well as the potential for pollution and, of greater concern, bodily injuries to ship crew and port personnel. The advent of larger tonnage and the consequent ‘cascading’ affect to smaller ports mean that the risk is real in most locations. This article attempts to identify and address the issues that can mitigate the occurrence of ship berthing incidents.
The two key areas of heightened risk are ship manoeuvring in the port and the process of mooring. Manoeuvring exposes the ship to collisions, while mooring can result in injuries or fatalities to crew or mooring line personnel. All the factors contributing to such incidents can be classified as either ship issues or port/terminal issues.
Qualified and experienced masters and pilots are essential to the safe berthing of a ship. The pilot, master and bridge personnel clearly need good communications and mutual understanding of the other’s role for the safe conduct of the ship in pilotage waters. It is important to achieve clarity so that the pilot may be successfully integrated into the bridge management team. The pilot’s primary duty is to provide accurate information to ensure safe navigation, while the master retains ultimate responsibility for the safety of the ship. The master and his/her bridge personnel have a duty to support the pilot Good communication between the master and the pilot is essential for safe berthing, and the entire bridge management team bear responsibility to ensure that all actions are consistent with the passage plan and the safety of the ship. There has been evidence of incidents occurring because the master was new to the port and/or the pilot not previously experiencing the size or type of ship call at the port.
2. Engine and propulsion equipment
Engine and/or propulsion equipment failure is a common cause of ship collisions. Proper maintenance systems and procedures should be established and followed, including strict adherence to the ship’s Safety Management System.
3. Mooring lines
Where ropes are in poor or damaged condition, they should be replaced with spares. It is important that all ropes, wires and links used for mooring have a certificate, and it is good practice for these certificates to be clearly labelled and kept in an easily accessible file ready for inspection. Spare mooring ropes, wires and links should not be stowed with paint, chemicals, or any other shipboard or general cleaning items. Adequate spare mooring lines should be kept on the ship.
It is important that all greasing points are free, working correctly and have not been painted over, in order that equipment can be maintained to the suitable standard. All winches should be included in ship’s Planned Maintenance System.
5. Ship’s mooring crew
A number of incidents occur when non-deck crew are deployed during mooring operations. It is important to have sufficient personnel to be able to moor the ship safely and effectively. All crew should be trained and be familiar with the physical environment and the hazards associated with mooring operations. It is vital that time is taken to ensure that procedures are both understood and followed by the crew. A number of familiar factors recur in mooring incidents: seafarers stand in areas exposed to injury should ropes part. When crew with insufficient training take part in mooring operations, it is often these people who are seriously injured when something goes wrong. The ship and its equipment must be maintained to a high standard to reduce the risk of mooring incidents; all personnel should be adequately trained in the use of the correct personal protective equipment; adequate procedures should be in place, including supervision by a competent person. Training in mooring operations should be incorporated into the ship’s regular training schedule and include all personnel who may be involved.
Adverse weather can be significant for a ship in a port environment. Wind may cause heading changes and leeway; failure to compensate correctly for wind during berthing is a significant cause of berthing incidents. The difficulty in allowing for wind arises from the variable effect it can have due to changes in a ship’s heading and speed. Tides, currents and the swell also have significant effects on a ship preparing to moor or sail and must be considered by the master and the pilot in their calculations.
7. New technologies
Modern, more reliable ships’ engines and the addition of thrusters have improved the level of safety in ship manoeuvring. Furthermore, certain ports are installing vacuum and magnetic mooring systems that can improve safety by removing personnel from the risks inherent in mooring lines.
In most ports pilots are essential for assisting the master to manoeuvre his ship safely in the port. Port Authorities and pilots must ensure that appropriate training, systems and procedures are in place to manage the berthing and unberthing of the ships that they may be handling, especially taking account of new services or larger ships
Similarly, Port Authorities need to plan for new services or larger ships, including ensuring that there are a sufficient number of tugs with enough power.
In many ports bollards may have been in place and potentially unchecked for decades. There is currently no international standard to ensure that bollards are sufficient in number, quality and capacity, as well as suitably located for the tonnage likely to call at each berth. Ships need to have appropriate dialogues with the ports.
4. Mooring personnel
It is important to have sufficient personnel to be able to moor the ship safely and effectively. All mooring personnel should be trained and familiar with bights, snap-back zones and the hazards associated with mooring operations.
5. Parking location of quay cranes
When a ship is berthing the safest location to park quay cranes is well away from the allocated berth. However this is generally impossible due to the length of the berth and location of other operations. Furthermore, repositioning the cranes after berthing would present unacceptable delays. Therefore, the least risky location to park quay cranes during a ship’s berthing is in the centre of the intended berth. As it is often the bow or the stern which impacts the berth, a quay crane parked near to the ends of the allocated berth will have an increased risk of collision. Unfortunately wherever quay cranes are parked along the quay they can be impacted by an out-of-control ship.
Most Port Authorities have procedures to only allow berthing and unberthing when the wind speed is below a certain level, generally between 20 and 30 knots – and also dependent on wind direction, tides, currents and swell. These procedures are to prevent damage to equipment and infrastructure in the port and ensure the safety of personnel. Ports in regions prone to hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones generally have additional procedures to send ships out to sea when severe weather is forecast. Emergency procedure for severe weather may be less advanced in locations that historically have never had to deal with such conditions. Recent experience evidences that unfamiliar and erratic weather conditions are becoming more prevalent. Therefore all ports should implement emergency procedures to send ships to sea in advance of severe weather; do not wait for an incident before developing an emergency plan. The risks of ships’ mooring lines breaking during severe weather conditions are substantial, and only partially mitigated by the availability of additional mooring lines or tugs on standby, albeit these should form part of the emergency response plan.
7. New technologies
Emerging technologies offering vacuum and magnetic mooring systems may improve safety and the
securing of ships. These technologies do negate the need for mooring lines and therefore remove
port and ship personnel from potentially dangerous situations. Once more, while these systems are
not cheap, the improved safety benefits may justify their installation.
In summary, monitoring and addressing the above issues will help mitigate the occurrence of ship berthing incidents. The stakeholders on both the ship and port/terminal sides of the interface need to focus on their own issues, but also work together to manage the safety of people, assets and the environment.